The dice has been cast already. The ruling Democratic Party’s overwhelming triumph in this year’s general elections has brought power and confidence to the Moon Jae-in administration. Nevertheless, there is doubt that the same applies to the president himself. President Moon now sees his tenure nearing an end in accordance to the single five-year presidential system just as those who came before him did.
The lame duck period is palpably accelerated by general elections around the second half of single five-year presidency. No matter who the winner is, a new political line up is formed across the ruling and opposing parties, which hints at a rough sketch of the next administration that has been fogged up. Presidential power only weakens and withers to carry little political weight just as seen in the four previous general elections in 1996, 2000, 2012 and 2016 that occurred around the second half of the then presidents – late Kim Young-sam, late Kim Dae-jung, Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, respectively.
The clock is ticking. The next presidential election will take place on March 9, 2022, less than two years away. It is foreseeable that starting from next year, all the political eyes will turn toward the next presidential election and this has always been the norm around the end of presidency. Therefore, this implies that President Moon’s governance influence may expire in effect by the end of this year.
Here is why President Moon Jae-in and his administration alike have no time for complacency. The general elections gave the ruling DP and the United Future Party (UFP) 163 and 84 seats, respectively, at the National Assembly. However, a closer look at the results shows that the ruling party earned 49.9 percent of the total number of votes in all the 253 districts nationwide, just 8.5 percentage points higher than 41.4 percent gained by the UFP. The minor gap results from many contested districts where DP candidates won by a small margin.
Likewise, there is a small difference of around 10 percentage points in the voting rate for proportional representation between liberals’ 50 percent and conservatives’ 40 percent. This proves that conservative voters exist despite their weakened power in the political arena. The incumbent administration should keep in mind throughout the remaining days that two-fifths of the public still have a critical view of it.
With ballot-counting being broadcast on TV, it was questionable how old has-beens garnered nomination in the UFP, some of which won the election in conservative-favoring districts. Overall, however, it turned out that they etched the UFP’s reputation as a political group of condescending old people in the Seoul metropolitan area.
This year’s general elections gave us a clear message that voters may dislike the UFP not because of its policy framework or vision but because of its image as a stubborn oldie. The UFP’s future is never guaranteed without transformational change of its party.
To that end, the first thing to do is to nominate new faces who can garner political attention for chief of the party's election committee and furthermore identify presidential candidate who can attract a wider range of voters including moderates for the next presidential election. What’s fortunate is that the elections gave the UFP an opportunity to wash off the vestiges of former President Park Geun-hye. Putting behind the disgrace attached by Park’s impeachment, the UFP should identify and nurture a presidential candidate who can bring fresh air in, unite and lead the party into a new future – just as indicated in its name – and share impressive life stories to win over the hearts of moderates and voters in their 30s and 40s. Indeed, it is the fastest way to mend the damaged conservative camp’s image.